The Staying Power of Running Friendships


The adage “Once a runner, always a runner” may eventually prove untrue. But I’ve learned that friendships built around running endure if they are meant to. I think to my current circle of close friends and 90% of them began with us running together. I’m including one that began with a hike, not a run, but it’s the same foundation built from conquering distance, counting steps and breathy-but-not-breezy conversations.


Walking works too, but for me, my personal identity remains tied to running. It’s probably why I’ll commit to walking for the rest of my life, and within weeks pick up the pace despite knowing the higher risk of injury and arthritic wobbles. It’s not a healthy relationship, I admit. 


I wasn’t always a social runner. In fact, one of the reasons I took up that form of exercise in my teens was to escape into myself. In my 20s, it was to escape crying babies and a crabby husband. And in my 30s and 40s, it turned competitive. You think when you pass another runner that their head is filled with obsessive thoughts about speed, agility and distance. I had those thoughts too, but they always were supplanted by less practical ideas. Still, there are dozens of people now in their 50s and 60s that helped me get somewhere I didn’t know I needed to be.


My first running friend came from the gym in North Carolina. She was a triathlete and wanted to improve her running. I ran every morning at 5:30 a.m. from the gym no matter the weather. We bonded quickly and became best friends. She then introduced me to two other triathletes and for years we all traveled together with a road race as the anchor for the trip. Sometimes they were 5ks or 10ks we easy wove in. Once it was a full marathon that consumed us.


I moved to Cape Cod and became close friends with another local runner and co-worker who overheard my phone conversation about the New Bedford Half Marathon. We ran most weekends after that and entered a lot of New England races together. She often beat me to the finish, but I was never upset by it. She was a better runner and that made me want to be better too. We just went on a great hike along with those two triathletes last month.


Things really ramped up when we relocated to San Diego. I was a loner again until I saw a request on the San Diego Track Club bulletin board that someone was seeking a running partner for Lake Miramar, which happened to be close to my house. I thought, “Why not?” That response led to one of the “longest running” active friendships I’ve had. Tara and I held each other accountable for training runs, we held each other to counter headwinds on the home front, and we helped each get to the finish line during tough, tough marathons.  


Eventually our lives moved in different directions. We always promise to get together, and occasionally actually follow through. But we’re both still working full time and grandmas now from different corners of the county. 


There’s one more group of friends I want to mention, because they are precious to me and because we sometimes forget that web-based social networks can still be a force for good. I met a local runner online and she told me about a group that ran weekends in my area. I’m not one to initiate contact, but fortunately for me, they are. I was working an SDTC booth during a summer half marathon when they came up after finishing their race to introduce themselves and invite me to join them the following week. I did, and I’ve developed lasting friendships I know will remain, even if we now walk or hike only when together. 


Yesterday my husband and I were among the friends and family to surprise Tara for her 50thbirthday party. My daughter used to babysit her daughter, and now it was that daughter co-hosting the party and showing off her beautiful baby girl along with her big brother’s two boys. So different from the preschooler who used to shout down from a staircase, “You gonna go wun wif my mommy?” My friend was genuinely surprised to see us, and even my husband commented that our hug was firmer and longer that the others. I told him that’s because once a running friend, always a running friend. Even if you haven’t run together for years.


Photo above with friends on a winter hike. Other photo is from an annual 4th of July race that circles Lake Miramar. That's Tara, still looking fast.

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